At 12.51pm on Tuesday, 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. An aftershock of the larger 7.1 magnitude quake from September 2010, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake was shallower and centred on the city, causing more widespread damage and the deaths of 185 people from 20 different countries.
Almost two years later, the city is still re-building. Large parts of the CBD (central business district) remain cordoned off. The iconic Christchurch Cathedral, which had been damaged in five previous earthquakes between 1881 and 2010, was so severely impacted by the 2011 quake that the decision was made to deconsecrate the building; demolition work began in March 2012.
As a popular tourist destination, the economic impact of the earthquake in Christchurch was felt beyond the destruction of the day itself. More than 360 aftershocks have been recorded, and while safety warnings have largely been lifted by foreign governments, even neighbouring Australia is still advising citizens to be careful because aftershocks will continue for several years.
Always a welcoming city for travellers, the locals here want it made clear that Christchurch is OPEN and as welcoming as ever. So we have no concerns as we begin to explore New Zealand’s second largest city. Cities like London treat ‘pop up’ galleries and restaurants as a limited-edition novelty; Christchurch has embraced the concept and become, in many ways, a pop-up city!
Our first destination is the Re:START, a mall built from shipping containers and now home to a mix of retail shops, funky cafes, and a vibe that’s hard to describe but wonderful to experience. Use the free wi-fi on site to remind your friends around that world that CHCH (as the locals call it) is still a global destination.
Lunch is had at the King of Snake restaurant – no snakes on the menu, just amazing thai cuisine to be enjoyed in this eclectic establishment.
Normally we avoid double-decker bus tours – in most cities they seem an expensive way to learn in 2 hours what 2 pages of a good guide book will tell you. But we want to hear the Christchurch story – before, during, and after the 2011 earthquake – first hand, and the 1 hour Hassle Free bus tour seems the way to do it.
And then, sadly, it’s time for us to continue our exploration of all that New Zealand has to offer. Our evening drive takes us 4 hours north of Christchurch to the town of Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine country. We’ll stop for dinner on the way, and get a taste for the wine and local seafood at the 122-year-old Pier Hotel in Kaikoura.
How quickly we have evolved from heart-thumping adventure to some of the finest food and wine in the world.
Want to go? Need to know!
- Christchurch is safe. Like any destination in an earthquake zone, visitors (especially those from stable locations) here are advised to take a few minutes and familiarise themselves with the Drop, Cover, Hold routine before travelling.
- We found that the locals are open to talking about the changes the city has been through over the past two years; but this is a generalisation, and there’s no doubt that the death and destruction will still be impacting the lives of some people you meet.
- Most international tourists enter New Zealand via flights to either Christchurch (north end of the South Island) or Auckland (North Island), and it’s well worth spending a few days wandering this beautiful city at the start or end of your NZ holiday.
- Keep an eye on the Pop-up City website for new attractions – http://popupcity.co.nz/
Been to Christchurch before or after the Earthquake? Please share your experience in the comments below.